Murrays' Mills
Daniel Hopkinson

Murrays' Mills

FCB Studios (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios) as Architects

The heart of Ancoats' industrial neighbourhood  
FCBStudios and Manchester Life's transformation of Murrays' Mills is a flagship project for the regeneration of the Ancoats Conservation Area. Known as the 'first industrial neighbourhood in the world', Ancoats has now emerged as a lively, individualistic residential community on the eastern edge of Manchester city centre. 

 
Murrays' Mills is the oldest surviving steam-powered cotton mill in the world. Our brief from Manchester Life, the investor and developer who has been leading regeneration and placemaking efforts in Ancoats since 2015, was to let the buildings' layout, character and heritage inform the design to create homes for a new community and set a marker for the regeneration of Ancoats. 


Marty Edelman, Executive Chairman, Manchester Life Development Corporation said "When we started Manchester Life, our priority was to help deliver on the city's housing priorities by turning around the fortunes of Ancoats and New Islington and enabling regeneration to take hold. Our phase one strategy was to deliver six sites concurrently, providing over 1,000 homes and 27,000sqft of space for local businesses, to establish a vibrant and thriving community. 


The historical significance of Murrays'  Mills placed it at the heart of this effort, and from the outset, we knew it called for a unique approach. FCBStudios' first challenge was to investigate Murrays' and tell us how many homes could be created without disturbing the fabric of the buildings or losing their character. There is no doubt that FCBStudios' experience within the city, heritage buildings and commitment to partnering with us on a such a complex project have established the next chapter for this historical complex of mills."


Responding to the site, rather than a pre-set notion of unit numbers, ensured the character and heritage would be preserved, with Manchester Life going further by restricting sales to owner-occupiers to ensure the next chapter of Murrays' would be locally owned.
 

The 1798 complex, composed of two parallel 7-8 storey mills, is linked by a more recognisably Georgian administrative building. A new build residential building completes the courtyard, which has been transformed from an abandoned canal turning basin to a peaceful garden providing space for play, rest and coming together.
 

The mix and size of the dwelling units resulted from careful analysis of the existing building forms and construction. The 124 diverse dwellings comprise of 1,2,3 and 4-bedroom apartments and a townhouse in the former engine house building. To make the most of the opportunities the buildings offered, 28 duplex apartments were created at ground and roof level. 

 
Within the existing mills, our strategy was to locate the sleeping accommodation to the outside, the services/wet zones along the centre of the plan, with the living spaces overlooking the courtyard.


The courtyard has been re-enclosed by a new building which takes its form and name, ‘Wing Mill’, from its predecessor destroyed by fire in the 1990s. Though distinctly modern in character the design takes its inspiration from the robust, bold and regimented language of the adjacent mill buildings.


Private and communal entrances directly open onto the courtyard to further enliven the shared space. The original circulation cores were retained, enabling key aspects of the historic fabric to be visible and functional.


Where the existing mills are constructed with load-bearing masonry and punctured window openings; the new ‘mill’ character describes its contemporary frame structure with framed window openings. The facades are formed of a ‘woven’ precast brick lattice infilled with French windows, cast recycled aluminium panels and MIO painted metal balustrades. To unify the whole project this limited pallete extends into the interiors and is supplemented with band sawn oak floors and simply painted walls. Paint finishes to new steelwork are dark grey and to existing steel or ironwork are red oxide for a simple legibility between old and new.


Hugo Marrack, Partner at FCBStudios said " The design retains the external appearance of the mills, and creates a new ‘fourth side’ building, Wing Mill, that both complements and contrasts the original structures. Through this addition, the historic mill complex evolves as a legible and unified ensemble.
 

In working carefully with the character and structure of the existing mill buildings, we were able to find the most appropriate mix of dwellings to create a strongly domestic environment. The central courtyard is brought to life by people using the front doors and shared circulation cores to the duplexes arranged around it. Building bridges between old fabric, new uses and new buildings, our aim was to establish a subtle but resilient intervention that will shape the continuing development of Ancoats into a thriving neighbourhood."


FCBStudios has also recently completed two newbuild residential and mixed-use developments in Ancoats for Manchester Life.

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